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Faux Paus on Thailand’s Teachers’ Day

Thailand celebrates a day just for teachers like many countries around the world. Their Teachers’ Day is called Wai Kru. On this day the students make stunning flower arrangements with elaborate designs, vibrant colors, and all set in a beautiful pot. The holiday is held in the beginning of the school year, perhaps only a few weeks into school depending on the schools start date. The holiday has been long celebrated and extensive planning goes into this important day.

I was an English teacher in Thailand and during my very first term, only a few mere weeks after landing in the country, I was already working at a school and it was time to celebrate Teachers’ Day. Everyone at the school including the students made me feel welcomed and loved already so a day for us was even more special and made me feel even more comfortable in Thailand and my school.

The covered basketball area had been transformed to accommodate more than half of the school. There were rows of chairs and a large stage that was decorated by the students. Students missed some classes a few days prior to the holiday just to prepare for it, decorate, finish off their flower offerings and to perfect their traditional Thai dances and music.

Students waiting to go up on stage
Students waiting to go up on stage
Flower arrangements
Flower arrangements

So Teacher’s Day came and my students were in grades M4, 5, and 6, which is the equivalent of grades 10-12 (in the US), or ages 15-18. I had the oldest group of kids and they were absolutely fabulous. I was super excited to see what they have been preparing for us all these days! The ceremony started, and there were groups of about 10-12 teachers that were invited on the stage and then preformed for. The students had a little choreographed ‘respectful’ dance that they showed us and then they would get on their knees, bow their heads before each teacher, and hand off the stunning flower arrangement. Seriously, the flowers were awesome. Each design was different, unique, and all so colorful!

The stage
The stage
More flower arrangements. Aren't they so cool?
More flower arrangements. Aren’t they so cool?
This was a flower bracelet given to me by a student.
This was a flower bracelet given to me by a student.

After the student handed off the flowers they ‘waied’ the teachers. Wai-ing is when someone puts their two hands together, palm to palm, in front of their face and then does a little nod or bow. This is a respectful symbol in Thailand. After a few groups went, it was finally my turn. I walked on stage with my fellow teachers and took my seat.

As you may know, in the US and in many other countries around the world, when a woman wears a skirt or dress, they cross their legs. This is the polite thing to do. If you remember, I have only been in Thailand for a few weeks at this point and had absolutely no idea that this is exactly the opposite in Thailand. Crossing your legs is actually extremely rude. If you think about the way Buddhist people pray, their feet are always behind them, never pointing at Buddha. Feet are considered the unholiest part of the body and again, very rude. So what did I do the second I took my seat on that stage in front of the majority of my school? I CROSSED MY LEGS.

The entire crowded in unison all gasped and gawked at my major faux paus. Thank goodness a nice teacher next to me immediately pushed my leg down. I had no idea what just happened at this point and just sat their awkwardly as the ceremony continued for our group of teachers. After all was done, the teacher who helped me push my leg down just laughed and chatted away with me telling me that it’s “No nice to do this. Feet not nice in Thailand.” I apologized profusely to all the teachers around me, wai-ing them and putting my most sympathetic face on. They were all so sweet and most just patted me on the back saying, “It’s OK! You foreigner. You no know this. You not Thai, no problem.”

Bless all of them for being so nice. I felt a bit better after I saw everyone laughing it off, however when Teacher’s Day came around the next year, all the teachers made sure to remind me NOT to cross my legs! Although they didn’t have to, I will never cross my legs again in Thailand. Ever.

Photos by Nina

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About Nina

Nina Ragusa lives the nomadic lifestyle and is currently calling Thailand home. Since she has the luxury of teaching online and freelance writing she can make anywhere in the world her office. From the ridiculously beautiful beaches of Krabi to the sweet hippy town of Pai, Nina travels, writes, and lives the nomadic lifestyle that she has always wanted.

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